Cabinet on transparency

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THE Federal Cabinet, which met in Islamabad on Tuesday with Prime Minister Imran Khan in the chair, besides other things, discussed issues and plans aimed at promoting transparency in the working of the Government to help realize the cherished objective of good governance. It decided to set up a National Asset Management Authority to keep a complete record of the state lands, legislate on the issue of missing persons in the light of directions of the Islamabad High Court, called for discouraging protocol culture adopted on the pretext of security and discussed the issue of anomalies in salaries of the federal and provincial government employees.

We have been emphasizing in these columns that most of the problems of the people would be resolved as per their satisfaction if the Government introduces complete transparency in its working, decisions are taken on merit and rule of law is ensured. The issue of state land grabbing has assumed alarming proportions as hundreds of thousands of acres of land belonging to various ministries and departments were under illegal occupation of both powerful individuals and other public sector organizations due to poor record-keeping and lack of effective control and management of these precious assets. The Government retrieved land worth billions of rupees during the last two and a half years but there are countless instances of land grabbing and a true picture would emerge only when all data is gathered and consolidated in an accurate manner. The establishment of the Authority would be a step in the right direction as it would not only keep record of state land but also take measures, of course, in collaboration with the federal and provincial governments concerned, to retrieve land and propose their proper utilization. This would be a sort of national land bank giving an exact idea of availability and utilization of the land for a particular purpose.

It may also be pointed out that the issue of land grabbing is not confined to the public sector entities as land of individual citizens is routinely (illegally) occupied by qabza groups and sponsors of housing societies. This aspect also needs to be taken up seriously and the possibility of establishing special cells, consisting of honest officials, at district level may be considered to look into all complaints in this regard. This would also lessen burden on ordinary courts where cases linger on for decades and justice is hardly done to all litigants even at the end of extraordinarily long proceedings. The cabinet expressed concern over killing of four people and injuring of four others by a protocol vehicle (of a convoy) but fell short of taking clear decisions on what to do in future to prevent recurrence of such incidents and also ensuring least inconvenience to the general public during movement of such convoys. There should be proper action in cases of violation of traffic rules and no one should be considered above the law. The Prime Minister did well by taking notice of protests by employees of a department on the issue of anomaly in salary, directing authorities concerned to remove anomalies between salaries of federal and provincial employees. We may, however, draw attention of the Government towards the fact that sharp anomalies also exist in the salaries of different ministries and departments of the federal government as well.

This issue has repeatedly been highlighted by protesting employees of Pakistan Secretariat but regrettably no remedial steps have so far been taken. As for the difference in pay and allowances of federal and provincial government employees is concerned, it is also because of the difference of approach and policy by the Centre and the provinces. The issue stood highlighted when the Federal Government decided not to increase salaries of its employees at the time of presentation of budget for the current financial year but Sindh Government allowed an interim increase to its employees. The cabinet was also briefed on the progress made so far in various ongoing projects under the New Pakistan Housing Scheme, especially in providing personal shelter to low-income people. The figures presented during the meeting showed the scheme has been received well both by investors and the general public as already one hundred thousand housing units have been completed and another one hundred thousand are under construction due to liberal incentives offered by the Government. There should be forensic audit of the housing projects to ensure the quality of work, which has not been enviable in the past in the case of the majority of builders.